Friday, March 25, 2011

Triangle Fire,100 yrs. on

It was a quarter or so to 5, Saturday afternoon. The work week was near finish. The 8th, 9th and 10th storeys of a 10 storey building in New York City contained the Triangle Shirtwaist [woman's blouse] Factory. A fire broke out on the eighth. Someone phoned the 10th. Word did not reach the 9th, the fire did.

The building had a fire escape in poor condition, 2 freight elevators, and two stairwells. The fire escape collapsed and people fell to their death. The elevator operators made trips with survivors until the elevators failed. One stairwell was on fire. The other stairwell, was locked and the foreman with the key gone.

129 women and girls died, and 17 men. Some burned to death, some died from the fall or jump. In a few minutes the fire department had the fire contained. Fire truck ladders could only reach to the 6th floor. The building had no fire sprinklers

Most of the dead were young immigrants, italians and jews. Mother died with daughter, sister with sister, cousin with cousin.

Two years had passed since a major strike. Amongst the outrageous items the women wanted, through collective bargaining, was a work week of just 52 hours and an increase from 13¢ an hour. They got some of that, but not the right to join the union.

The owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, came off the boat too; but now they were as good as any american born capitalist and owner. Their hatred of unionisation was great. They had contrived with cops, goons, street whores and judges to defeat the workers.

Frances Perkins was at a tea party (tea parties came about with the victorian age when women of the higher social classes had much idle time, they are somewhat different than those held by little girls and their imaginary friends, and different still than those of some political fanatics of to-day) in downtown Manhattan, and she and many other people came to watch the fire. She saw bodies splat. Some fell like torches.

Perkins would later call that Saturday "the day the New Deal began". A Factory Investigating Commission was set up by the State of New York. Frances Perkins was part of it. They held hearings about the state. Laws (governmental regulations) were eventually made, intrusive things such as fire drills, occupancy limits and exit signs. New York State became the most regulated state in the country concerning worker safety.

Harris and Blanck went on trial for manslaughter. They hired an expensive lawyer. They skated. The insurance company paid them more than their supposed losses. Two years later Blanck was caught for another locked door. He was fined $20.

The Triangle may be only a paragraph, or less, in school books now; but with fine 'patriotic' citizens, who cherish 'balance', on textbook committees such un-american paragraphs, or sentences, in high school textbooks can be removed. Recently HBO and PBS ran documentaries on the fire. This is the sort of 'liberal' programming that angers 'conservatives'. These sort of programmes in 'public' funded broadcasting which are broadcast on PBS and NPR are 'dangerously' biased. People writing about such programmes and their subject matter are suspect.

By coincidence, i was working on a project in which i was sewing one piece of cloth on another while watching the PBS 'propaganda'. I listened to the part where the girls had their pay taken (docked) for mistakes, and the part where the needles would go through their fingers, and they kept working, while i bumbled with green thread.

Now we are living with freshly elected Republican governors in northern states, whom wish to make business more friendly to entrepreneurs such as Isaac Harris and Max Blanck. Such unions such as The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (now part of UNITE HERE), and those of government workers attack the liberty and property of owners, and the flexibility of governors to balance budgets.

None of those recent governors (Walker, Kasich, Snyder, LePage [who is creating an orwellian memory hole], Christie) (some winning with a minority of voters) may serve a second term, but they will be taken care of by the people they are taking care of. Of course some of those governors are of the same class as those whom they benefit. It is hard to determine which is the most obnoxious and contemptible.

detail of panel 8 with Frances Perkins, part of an 11 panel mural by Judy Taylor in Maine's Department of Labor building, all of which were ordered to be removed by the new governor, Paul LePage as being 'anti-business' and 'one-sided'

1 comment:

  1. Good day! Do you have any blogging or this is a natural talent of yours? Can't wait to see your answer.